Honolulu Police Department Interim Chief Rade Vanic pushed back Wednesday against what he described as false claims by the state’s police union that the department is endangering Oahu residents by failing to staff enough police patrols.

Vanic’s comments came at a Honolulu Police Commission meeting in response to statements last week by the new head of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers accusing HPD of “turning a blind eye to the problem” of understaffed patrols across the island.

Vanic, who last week dismissed SHOPO President Robert Cavaco’s claims as a “scare tactic,” detailed for commissioners what he believes the union head got wrong.

Interim Chief Rade Vanic at the Police Commission Meeting
HPD Interim Chief Rade Vanic said the department is looking at ways to increase patrol officer coverage of the island. Honolulu Police Commission/2021

“I think there was some information given by SHOPO at the conference that just quite frankly was inaccurate,” Vanic said.

At a press conference last week, Cavaco presented printouts that he said showed dozens of police beats across HPD’s eight districts that were not patrolled over the previous weekend, mostly in Downtown Honolulu, Chinatown, Kalihi and West Oahu.

Cavaco also said that HPD is currently 322 officers short of being fully staffed with another 193 officers currently eligible for retirement.

Vanic said that in response to Cavaco’s claims he circulated a memo throughout HPD acknowledging that personnel numbers are a problem and that he is working on addressing the matter.

“I do agree that the shortage of police officers is a very serious issue and this administration is open to working with patrol commanders and the union to find a way to address the shortage,” Vanic said. “This isn’t a shortage that is just unique here to Honolulu, but this is a shortage that is being seen nationwide and statewide.”

Vanic said he met with SHOPO officials on Feb. 1, and that union representatives proposed a new schedule that would allow patrol officers to work three 12-hour shifts per week.

Cavaco said during his press conference that such a schedule would help draw more recruits to the department. He also said that HPD was not receptive to the idea, which Vanic denied on Wednesday.

“We told them that we would look into the possibility of testing the work (proposed) schedule although during the press conference they said that we were not considering it,” Vanic said. “That’s not actually true.”

Vanic said that the department had been working to address staffing and patrol issues within the department before SHOPO’s press conference despite Cavaco’s claims that the union’s concerns are not being taken seriously.

Vanic told commissioners the department conducted an analysis to assess the impact of a “3/12” schedule, reviewed staffing levels in different districts, and implemented a minimum staffing percentage of 75%.

“My expectation is that there shouldn’t be a time where staffing goes below 75%,” Vanic said. “Of course, there are going to be times when staffing goes above, and that is actually good, but there shouldn’t be a time where it goes below.”

Vanic added that the department also reviewed the minimum number of hours that officers work per week.

Vanic said that in an effort to save money and make the most efficient use of officers’ time, the department had lowered minimum shift lengths to six hours and focused on increased staffing during what were expected to be the busiest periods.

“But to SHOPO’s very good point,” Vanic said, “you cannot always determine when crime is going to occur … so we did increase from six to eight hours.”

Vanic also addressed Cavaco’s call for overtime hours to be increased to allow more officers to be on patrol.

“It may seem like a small thing,” Vanic said. “Even one or two extra hours at the rate that an officer gets paid, across all of the districts and all of the watches, that one hour would cost the department $1 million over a year’s period.”

“That is a very large amount,” Vanic continued. “But I want to reiterate that … we cannot only look at the bottom line. You cannot put a dollar amount on that, but all I ask of my commanders is that they be fiscally responsible and make sure they’re using their resources the best that they can.”

SHOPO and HPD are scheduled to meet next week to continue discussions on staffing issues.

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